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Pointing the finger in the marketing mix

28th Mar 2017
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If you work for an organisation that likes to measure the impact of its marketing, and use marketing return on investment (MROI) technology to do so – then you probably think you have a pretty good idea of whether your campaigns are working.  The reality is that however confident they may feel, most organisations are falling behind the curve as today’s complex media environment and mix of digital, mobile, traditional and app based consumer actions are not being correctly attributed in the marketing mix.

For some, this feeling, perceived or real, that they do not truly understand the impact of marketing efforts leads them to always look for the next big thing:  that new methodology, or tool, that will not only help them see where marketing investment is most effective, but get them ahead of competitors, and even ahead of the consumer decision making process – giving them that extra nudge across the line to a purchase.

One such approach that has been getting quite a lot of buzz space in the marketing community is Unified Marketing Impact Analysis (UMIA).  It seeks to bring together the most popular methods of marketing analysis, marketing mix modelling and digital attribution to give marketers a level of visibility across the customer decision journey, that spans online and offline, and the multiple channels that exist within each.

UMIA, as provided as a toolset by many vendors is being seen as having a ‘black box’ element to its technology.  This is partly because marketers know that marketing mix modelling and attribution alone cannot build these bridges.  Equally many vendors are protective of their ‘secret sauce’ which only fuels the black box theory.  Marketers are, in essence, being asked to take a big risk with technologies, when they are still in their infancy.

Of course, as a marketer who may be grappling with tens of channels, multiple campaign strategies, and dynamic customers that jump across channels on their journey to making a purchase, you could be forgiven for considering a ‘silver bullet solution’.  Changing consumer behaviour, such as the increased use of mobile devices, means that for any single customer journey an individual can switch across multiple devices, perhaps several times.  This channel-hopping is leaving marketers with customer journeys that simply hit a dead-end, and transactions with no apparent journey before them.  Simply put, these challenges are leaving marketers in the dark.

Black-box marketing

As is often the case with a new acronym, many are professing to have developed ‘the’ solution to address all the marketing challenges outlined above, and are hanging off the UMIA coat tails.  Whilst the underlying idea of UMIA is a sound one – we do after all need a way to address the challenges outlined above – do we need to jump into an abyss and leave behind all we have done before?  That might seem an extreme way of putting it, but it is certainly true that some marketers are considering jumping to the ‘new shiny’ approach.  The problem is not the idea of UMIA, it is simply that there are many approaches to the problem, and there are too many standards emerging, making the landscape complex and in a state of flux.  At the moment, UMIA can feel like investing in a black box you don’t truly understand.

But is investing in a new solution going to achieve the end goal?  We have already spoken at the top of this piece about how UMIA ultimately seeks to bring together the best of existing approaches, so whilst vendors may claim to have their ‘secret sauce’, we must accept that fundamentally we are embracing and manipulating data from the same sources.

It all points back to the same data

Accepting that we are using the same basic data, we need to consider where the problems really lie.  Is ripping and replacing solutions that use the same data going to fix things, or is the data part of the problem?  For most of us, our marketing analysis will combine both internal and external data sources, and whilst we should take the time to ensure that the external sources are the right ones, it is having the right internal data is where our efforts really need to be focused.

Taking a more clinical approach toward data is fundamental in our ability to gain insights that reflect the real world.  Doing so allows us to align common elements (such as customer, session, transaction, device ID or location) that can be found in the different channels we operate across.  These dotted lines between data sources mean we can more easily follow the customer journey and interactions across channels, rather than treating each as an island.

But the challenge for the modern marketer is building on that foundation, with data that allows us to understand the influence of marketing channels and campaigns. In the online world this is not hard to do, and it is getting easier all the time to gain access to data that gives the precise timing of TV and radio spot playouts.  Combining any number of other external data sources, with our internal foundation creates a real world in data that can be scrutinized, modelled and used to influence future decisions.

By starting with good data, marketers can use existing tools to build full integration between MROI methodologies such as econometrics modelling (MMM), digital attribution, TV attribution, and test & learn.  We all know that each method has benefits, as well as blind spots, but the best tools allow you to take the best from each, and apply them to specific marketing scenarios.  For example, Econometrics will not help you with granular insights into customer behaviour, but attribution will for digital channels. For marketing instruments with limited data/history available, heuristic analysis is one of the best MROI tools.  Combining all three will give you the power to assess a campaign in its entirety.  

Ultimately, it all comes back to having that sound data foundation and wisely integrating proven methodologies. This is required to avoid contradictory results and ensures you get just one clear recommendation. UMIA alone, will not be a silver bullet bypassing the need for fundamentally strong and interconnected data.

Get back to the basics

UMIA might become a reality for marketers, but right now it is an early stage technology that is still some way from establishing its viability.  However, the underlying ideas and problems, all lead back to making sure our marketing data, the analytical methods, and how we use them are sound.  Right now, we should point the finger at ourselves, and task ourselves with ensuring the fundamentals are right.  Doing this will bring immediate benefits and ensure that as UMIA platforms mature, companies can deploy them rapidly one day and see immediate benefits.

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